U.S. implements new travel rules for Cuba

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The U.S. government on Friday will begin making it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba than it has been for more than half a century, the New York Times reported today.

Meanwhile, businesses continue to push the White House for more Cuba access, a Wall Street Journal report says.

Representatives of the National Marine Manufacturers Association returned in mid-December from a trip to Cuba hoping to see the half-century-old U.S. trade embargo with that nation lifted. It was the second trip the NMMA has made to Cuba; the first occurred last summer.

“The reason we conducted these research trips is because there’s so much misinformation about Cuba, the opportunities there, the trade embargo and what competitors are doing,” NMMA export director Julie Balzano told Trade Only Today. “We decided that — rather than form a strategy based on hearsay — we thought the time was right to go down and see for ourselves what the reality is for Cuba and future opportunities for our members.”

In the latest development, the Obama administration said today that it will implement a new set of regulations that take effect Friday and will considerably ease restrictions on travel, business and spending.

Under the new rules, Americans will be allowed to travel to Cuba for any of a dozen specific reasons without first obtaining a special license from the government, according to the New York Times report.

Airlines and travel agents will be allowed to provide service to Cuba without a specific license. And travelers will be permitted to use credit cards and spend money while in the country and bring back as much as $400 in souvenirs, including as much as $100 in alcohol or tobacco.

On a parallel track, U.S. businesses are pressing the Obama administration to offer wider access to Cuba’s markets than it has signaled, fearing they could lag overseas competitors as the nation takes steps toward opening its economy, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The administration plans to provide its first set of detailed guidance in the coming days, a month after Obama surprised the world by using his executive authority to renew diplomatic and economic ties after decades of sanctions.

Amid the enthusiasm for new opportunities in Cuba, a column at MarketWatch.com offers a sobering view of the state of the Cuban economy.

“Havana is a ruin, a surreal time warp, exemplified by ancient cars and trucks from before the 1959 revolution. For 50 years there have been no imports of cars for private use. Houses and apartment buildings are run-down, with their occupants not having cash for needed repairs,” writes Barry D. Wood.

“Amazingly, most Cubans subsist on salaries of $20 per month. Those with more are Communist bureaucrats, workers in tourism with access to hard currency and those receiving remittances from abroad.”

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